The Current Magazine Summer 2018 - Page 43

Photo: Mike Wier

The powerful Pit River

Ever been to Pit 3? Or 4 or 5? Ask any seasoned California fly fisherman about the Pit and most will say it’s one of their favorites, if not their absolute favorite trout stream in the state. The Pit has a hard earned reputation as one of the top fly-fishing destinations in California.

The Pit River originates way up in North Eastern California by Goose Lake. From there it winds and finds its way through miles of high desert and farm land down to where it meets up with the Fall River just above Pit River Falls outside the town of Fall River Mills. The falls were most likely the end of the line for salmon back in the day and a great place for native fisherman to dip net the seasonal fish. Fall River is the largest spring source river in California and dumps quite a bit of cold fresh water into the Pit. There’s a cascading water fall at the end of Fall River Valley that still spills some of the contents of Fall River into the Pit. The rest of the Fall River water is delivered back into the Pit at Pit 1 Powerhouse via a tunnel and pipe right through the mountain. Clearwater Lodge at the Pit River is located right there on the old PG&E grounds, owned by the power company for many years after its construction in the 1920s. Now, it’s one of, if not the best, fly-fishing lodges in the state.

Pit 1 can be a good fishery as well but the water warms by mid-summer so, along with trout, it supports a decent population of bass and pike minnow that come up from Lake Britton.

From below Lake Britton the sections of river are named after the number of the powerhouse at the top of each run. All together there are seven powerhouses along the Pit before it ends in Shasta Reservoir making it one of the biggest power producers in the region and a significant contributor of spring water to the Central Valley and State Water Projects.

It was a pleasant sight to see the river flowing good and cold this month. When I arrived last week the flows were right around 90 csf which is a great flow for the Walker. Looking at the graph the river hasn’t gotten over 150 for the past 3 years! It looked like the old EW I used to know. I could see from the graphs though that the river had just come up recently. I knew the fish would still be near the deeper pools where they congregate at lower flows. When the water bumps up it gives them a chance to get up into the riffles and spread out into prime feeding water.

My friend Chris and I worked our way through some of our favorite pools fishing the buckets as well as the riffles leading in and out of the pools. Chris started with a dry then fished nymphs while I opted for the streamer. That’s a great combo for buddy fishing. One guy can come through with a light nymph rig or dry dropper set up and the streamer guy can run cleanup. That’s how’s we’ve done it for years. The day was sunny and warm. It was a Saturday and we only ran into two other fishermen all day so we got to choose our favorite waters.

As far as the fishing goes it was a bit slow but the fish that were caught were all very healthy and high quality. Chris got a nice brown on a small nymph down in the pocket water along the road. A buddy I ran into, who’s a guide from the East side, got a super chunky brown on a nymph as well as a couple solid rainbows.

My best shot came in a deep pool up high. I threw a large streamer in looking for a stout fish. On the second cast my line stopped and I thought I’d hooked the moss on the bottom again. I lifted up the rod tip and up came a huge brown with my streamer in his mouth. When he saw me, he just simply opened his mouth and my fly came popping out. I never had a chance to set the hook. A few casts later my line came tight again. This time I set the hook and instantly felt weight on the end of my line. When I lifted up I could see the white of what I thought was a big mouth and saw the tail of a fish. I yelled at my buddy. The fish was waving around in the current but not fighting. My buddy laughed his you know what off as I pulled in half of a dead fish. Well that was a real slap in the face from the river gods but that’s how it goes sometimes. My only hope was that the big old brown I’d seen just prior had eaten the other half of the mystery fish carcass.

If you do stop by the East Walker be sure to check out the new kiosk that was installed by CalTrout in the summer of 2014 in the parking lot just below the dam. The plaques tell about the native Lahontan Cutthroat and CalTrout’s efforts to restore the fish in parts of the Walker Basin. They feature some of my photos from being out in the field filming and photographing our restoration efforts over the past few summers in the remote tributaries to the West Walker.

Tight Lines,

Michael Wier